5 Fundamental Communication Exercises

There are many communication exercises that you can use. So which ones do we recommend?

Here are 5 of them that we really find helpful and highly suggest because they focus on the fundamentals of communication.

Fundamental Communication Exercise #1: General vs. Precise Instructions

Give each person in a group a piece of paper. Then announce to the group a sequence of instructions, such as:

  • Fold the paper in half
  • Tear off the top left corner of the paper
  • Fold the paper in half once more

After completing several of these instructions, have the group compare the appearance of their pieces of paper. Point out that even though they all received the same instructions, their papers do not look identical and may even look quite different.

The point of this is to show how important precise communication can be. You told them to fold the paper in half, but not in which direction. You told them to tear off the top left corner of the paper, but you didn’t tell them how much of the corner to tear off.

After this exercise, people should be more conscious of how not only miscommunication, but imprecise communication, can lead to people literally not being on the same page. Try it again, using increasingly specific instructions. How specific do they have to get before people’s papers turn out the same?

Fundamental Communication Exercise #2: Mirroring Practice

The very heart of active listening is the ability to hear what someone says and understand it well enough to paraphrase it back to them in such a way that they confirm that your understanding matches their intended message. This is known as mirroring and is a fundamental skill very worth practicing.

Start simple. Just have people in pairs and have one person tell the other something very basic, such as what they ate for breakfast today. The other person should be able to repeat this back to them quite accurately. Then gradually have the speaker share more and more complicated ideas and concepts.

The listener needs to remember that his or her job is not to try to resolve issues that the person raises or judge their communication in any way. It is simply to understand it well enough that the other person will agree with their verbalized understanding.

This sounds like a simple exercise, but people unused to mirroring can be surprised at how difficult it is. Our tendency is often to want to ask further questions (besides ones solely aimed at clarification, which are allowed)  or tell a story of our own or offer our opinion in response to being told something. It may be a challenge at first to just consider, understand and paraphrase and do nothing else. But the rewards of building that communication muscle can be great.

Fundamental Communication Exercise #3: Empathizing through Stories

Another skill at the very core of effective listening is the ability to express empathy. One of the most effective ways to convey empathy is through stories. It’s one thing to simply tell someone that you connect with how they are feeling. But it’s even more powerful when you can share a story that demonstrates that.

Have a speaker share with a listener a story that is emotional for them in some way. It isn’t important which emotion the story brings up for them, only that it brings up some emotion to some significant degree.

Next have the listener respond by telling a story from their own experience that evokes for them a similar feeling.

Bonus: There are two ways to take this exercise to an even higher level

  • Require that the speaker explicitly name the emotion the story evokes, rather than simply allow it to be reflected in the story.


  • Require that the speaker not name the emotion and instead that the listener attempt to name it. The listener will only continue with a story of their own once the speaker agrees that they have correctly identified the emotion in question.

Double Bonus: To really take this exercise to the highest level, try the bonus steps above, but involve not only naming of feelings, but also naming of needs.

You can refer to the Center for Nonviolent Communication’s Feelings and Needs Inventories to help with this exercise.

Fundamental Communication Exercise #4: Pictionary or Charades

These games could both be considered nonverbal communication exercises for groups. In each, one must rely on means other than verbal to get a message across.

In Pictionary, a person uses drawing to try to convey to their team a particular subject they have in mind. The teammates then try to guess what the subject is using only the drawing to guide them.

In Charades, the idea is similar except that the person uses body language/acting without speaking, rather than drawing, to try to convey the subject they have in mind.

Both games can help surface a lot of lessons about communication. And, as a bonus, they are very fun and help build camaraderie so they are wonderful to use in situations that involve breaking the ice or team-building.

Fundamental Communication Exercise #5: Practice Nonviolent Communication

Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is a method of communication devised by Marshall Rosenberg specifically to facilitate connection and compassion. Using NVC forces people to be very precise in how they communicate.

The point of practicing NVC is not that people must always speak this precisely or even that NVC is useful in every situation. It’s simply that doing it consciously for periods of time will make them aware of aspects of communication that they might otherwise not even realize exist.

There is a great deal of information about NVC on the website of the Center for Nonviolent Communication (CNVC). And it is explained comprehensively in Rosenberg’s book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life.

But, in brief, speaking in this language involves 4 steps:

  1. Observation – Express a specific observation you made that led to a response in you. It is crucial that this be something you actually sensed with your 5 senses, not something you presumed or read into the situation.
    For instance: When I saw Bob frown and heard him sigh…
    Not: When I realized Bob was unhappy…
  2. Feeling – Name the feeling that that observation brought up for you. This should include a feeling word, not a thought. Use the CNVC Feelings Inventory to help.
    For instance: …I felt sad
    Not: …I wondered what was wrong with Bob
  3. Need – Name the need in yourself that was met or unmet, leading to the feeling. Use the CNVC Needs inventory to help. The need should be that of the speaker, not of the person they are observing.
    For instance: …because my need for harmony was unmet
    Not: …because Bob’s need for appreciation was unmet
  4. Request – Make a request relevant to meeting or reinforcing the meeting of the need in question. This should be a specific measurable request so that there is no debate over whether it is or is not carried out.
    For instance: Could you please ask Bob if we can help him? (This is a clear request. You will be able to tell if Bob was asked.)
    Not: Can you do something about this? (This is too imprecise and there could be debate over whether it was carried out sufficiently or not.)

In response, the listener can try mirroring and empathizing with what was expressed and then, once it is agreed that the message was received accurately and fully, the two can switch roles.


If you and your peers or colleagues practice these 5 communication exercises regularly, your communication skills are bound to improve. In any area, it’s tempting to focus on flashy or extreme activities, but investing consistently in the fundamentals is more likely to really pay off and that’s what these 5 exercises are all about.

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